Jocelyn Gould: from the prairies to the Big Apple

Jocelyn Gould

Jocelyn Gould

From Winnipeg to New York, it looks like Jocelyn Gould is on the way up as a jazz guitarist.

Gould – the winner of 2018’s Wilson International Jazz Guitar Competition – said she didn’t plan for this career when she decided to learn guitar and audition for the University of Manitoba’s jazz program back in 2009.

“I was studying science and in the library constantly by myself, and I just wasn’t happy,” she said.

“I made a complete 180 decision and said, ‘I'm going to take some guitar lessons and audition for the jazz studies program’.”

The audition happened in February that year, and Gould had only bought her first electric guitar the previous October. She spent those short five months working part-time at Domino’s Pizza and practicing as much as she could.

Gould, who never played in a high school band, said the community she saw in the jazz program was a big part of its appeal.

“At the time it made a lot of sense, but looking back on it now, it was a leap of faith,” she said. “I auditioned, I got accepted miraculously, and did the program, then worked after I finished as a professional musician in Winnipeg in all sorts of genres.”

Jocelyn Gould with a group of local musicians.

Jocelyn Gould with a group of local musicians.

Now transplanted to New York, Gould is leading her own project for the first time.

“This is the first time I've taken a project of singularly my own, to be the main thing that I'm doing, and it’s super liberating,” she said. “I'm enjoying it more than I thought I would, getting to be the front of the band and lead the band.”

Like many musicians, Gould struggles with self-doubt in her art.

“There is a lot of self-doubt that can come into play in music because you're constantly comparing yourself to the masters of the music,” Gould said. “But at some point over the last while, everything sort of changed. There’s been no time for thinking that you can't do something.”

Gould attributes her change in philosophy, in part, to working with mentor Randy Napoleon when she pursued a master’s degree in the U.S. at Michigan State University.

“I went to audition, and from the first moment I met Randy, it was clear he was the right teacher for me,” Gould said.

“Our musical interests align completely, and I was able to learn from him exactly what I wanted to learn about guitar and about jazz,” she said.

Despite an instant connection with Napoleon, and crediting him with changing her mindset, Gould said she’s never had a mentor who wasn’t a man, and she wants to help bring more diversity to jazz. While in New York, she said she’s putting extra emphasis on seeking out women in the jazz scene.

“I’m particularly passionate about getting more women playing jazz, and more non-binary people playing jazz,” she said. “That’s really important to me, so eventually that mentorship will come full circle.”

The lack of gender representation in jazz has been clear to Gould throughout her career. Since arriving in New York six months ago, she’s been putting extra work into meeting and playing with other women.

“It's really cool being in New York because it's a bigger scene, and there is more diversity," she said. "I’m getting to meet more women in jazz. The rough part is basically that you have to seek it out and make it happen.

“The level here is just so high and it's really challenging in a really positive way, in terms of encouraging you to grow as much as you can in a short period of time.”

“I was at a guitar festival two nights ago and I was sitting at the bar between Russell Malone and Peter Bernstein, who are two of arguably the greatest jazz guitarists of right now,” she said.

“I had this moment, thinking, wow, I'm just sitting at the bar with them having a conversation, and they know my name, and we're talking about guitar. That could only happen here.”

Jen Doerksen